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A NPC in my adventure (set in Eberron), which I lead as DM, wants to replace some maps in a book with different maps. The person removes the maps by cutting out the pages containing them and somehow inserts the different maps to "repair" the missing pages. How can they do this?

The motivation of the person is to mislead the party without leaving a trace.

Mending does not work, according to this Q&A: Can the Mending cantrip affix any surface to any other surface?

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    \$\begingroup\$ And you are the DM? \$\endgroup\$ Nov 17 at 18:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ Yes but we have a DM rotation and one guy in the group, always complains if something is introduced, which is not RAW. Like one time useable magic wands, forged by dark magic of Yuan Tis, which break after the first use. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 17 at 18:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ There is probably a really good question in there. "With rotating DMs, what do I do about a DM who expects the other DMs to justify story elements using player-facing rules?" \$\endgroup\$ Nov 17 at 18:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ What is the book from? Papyrus, Parchment, Hemp-Paper, pulp-paper, something else? Because for example Parchment can be shaven to correct a passage while hemp-paper behaves like fabric, pulp is modern paper... \$\endgroup\$
    – Trish
    Nov 20 at 0:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ I am afraid my players are reading here too, so I am as generic as possible ;). It is not about maps, I just wanted to give an example. A NPC wants to replace a few pages of a book a month before the player can see the book. It would the material a hight quality book would be made of in Khovair. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 20 at 1:14
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Re-bind the book

If your NPC cuts the page from the book and joins it this might be quite obvious. However, if they pull the book apart, remove the entire signature (which will usually be several pages - in most modern books an octavo [16] pages but older books were often folios [4 pages]), replace that and rebind the book.

This isn't hard or particularly time-consuming if you know how and have the equipment and would be virtually undetectable. The only clues would be the quality of the paper and the forgery.

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    \$\begingroup\$ You do not even need to know how to do this yourself. It might not be the most common profession, but any town with a reasonable population of scholars will have a bookbinder who is doing this every day and will not even suspect anything amiss if you hand them a stack of folios to re-bind in a book. In fact, if I remember correctly, until the invention of industrial book binding machines, it was quite common for books to be initially sold only loosely bound, so that the buyer could choose a cover and a style of binding matching the rest of their library. \$\endgroup\$
    – mlk
    Nov 18 at 13:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ If you need a roll for doing this, Xanathar's Guide to Everything has example uses of tool kits, page 81 has the Forgery Tool Kit, a DC 20 is used for duplicating a wax seal, I would use your tool proficiency vs the NPC's Perception check. \$\endgroup\$
    – Reed
    Nov 18 at 20:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ "Remove the cover, cut the threads that hold the pages together, replace what you need to, then resew the pages and reaffix the cover." - everyone can sew. Making glue is the hard part, getting it to set in time, stop off-gassing and not overpowering the old book smell. If a bard says they smell the book then the jig is up. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mazura
    Nov 19 at 0:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ N.B. I worked in the bindery for a small vanity press for a short time to make some money while traveling after college. It was a minimum-wage unskilled job, with all of 15 minutes' training, comparable to the demolition work I took for home improvement contractors at other times around then. Very brainless work. Clamp the pages, cut the pages, glue the cover, let dry, trim the edges. It's time-consuming though, it takes a day for the glue to set, if I recall. \$\endgroup\$
    – John Smith
    Nov 21 at 0:59
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Just tell your story, you don't need mechanics for this.

As the DM, you are not limited by the mechanics of the game. You don't have to have a mechanical justification for every story element. If one of the challenges you want to present to the party is an atlas with forged, misleading maps in it, just do that. It's your world, and you are in charge of it. The rules are not in charge:

The D&D rules help you and the other players have a good time, but the rules aren’t in charge. You’re the DM, and you are in charge of the game.

-Introduction, Dungeon Master's Guide

It shouldn't matter if you don't give a neat explanation based on the rules available to players. You don't do this with other story elements, and you shouldn't have to do it here. Was that tavern built according to RAW? No, of course not, it's a story element, nobody built it, I put it there because it's part of the story. Same with your book here. It is entirely feasible to do what you describe without using any spell or magic item, assuming you have the right skills. So that's what happened.

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    \$\begingroup\$ We have a DM rotation and one player / dm who is very unhappy if something is not raw. So I ask everything I am unsure of, first here. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 17 at 18:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ @stupidstudent Honestly, I am not sure that matters here. At least, it shouldn't. Do you get complaints about other mundane story elements not being RAW? Was that Tavern build according to RAW? No, of course not, it's a story element, nobody built it, I put it there because it's part of the story. Same with your book here. It is entirely feasible to do what you describe without using any spell or magic item, assuming you have the right skills. So that's what happened. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 17 at 18:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ Exactly. Rebinding is one of the standard activities that book conservators do. Replacing damaged pages is sometimes part of that. Before mechanical binding became a thing, it was always done by hand. Remove the cover, cut the threads that hold the pages together, replace what you need to, then resew the pages and reaffix the cover. It's not even magic (but since it's Eberron, somebody probably knows some nonstandard rituals to speed it up). \$\endgroup\$ Nov 17 at 19:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ You have to be a bit careful with DM fiat, because the first assumption a DM should make is that the PCs will want and attempt to do anything the DM has implicitly done. Got a longstanding tavern sitting in the middle of a swamp in apparent defiance of building principles? PCs might decide they want to build something in a swamp, so how are they going to do it? If they want to undermine your structure, how are they going to do it? Do they just need a saw, or do they need magic, or what? You can work your way through those with a measure of fiat, too, but a clear answer to "how?" helps a lot \$\endgroup\$ Nov 18 at 4:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ @zibadawatimmy Relevant quote: When I first came here, this was all swamp. Everyone said I was daft to build a castle on a swamp, but I built in all the same, just to show them. It sank into the swamp. So I built a second one. That sank into the swamp. So I built a third. That burned down, fell over, then sank into the swamp. But the fourth one stayed up. And that's what you're going to get, Lad, the strongest castle in all of England. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 18 at 14:52
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Via a skill check

Practically IRL this is very difficult. Books are made out of signatures, which are multi-page sheets folded to make the individual pages. Perfect binding, where pages are glued to the spine, like a paperback, is a very recent invention.

Since this is part of your world-building, you can have it done however you want. But I would give the player characters the chance to make a check to uncover the scam. Depending on how skilled your imaginary forger is, a DC of between 15 and 20 for and Intelligence Investigation check makes sense to me. If it is key to the plot, make it undetectable via any means.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Just don’t ask for a skill check as soon as they open the book or they will get suspicious. If they say that they are examining the book for signs that it has been altered — go ahead. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael
    Nov 19 at 7:33
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This could be done via the fabricate spell

The fabricate spell can turn raw materials into a crafted object. The book could be considered to require a level of craftsmanship, as mentioned by the spell, so the NPC needs proficiency with the forgery kit. Ideally you could have the NPC make a modified duplicate. You might be able to use the original book as materials for the fabricate spell although that might be stretching or breaking the rules. As DM it is your decision though.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Could you expand on why you think a manufactured object like a book qualifies as "raw materials"? The spell description gives several examples that seem to make it clear that it is referring to materials in their natural, unprocessed/unrefined/unmanufactured state. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 17 at 20:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ThomasMarkov I don't think that 5E exactly defines what raw materials are. If I want to fabricate a sword, do I need to use processed ingots? Or can I just use iron ore? What is stopping me from using a bunch of daggers to make the sword out of. For the book, you could find some way of erasing what is written and replacing it so why can't I treat an existing book as raw materials. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 17 at 21:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ThomasMarkov So you are saying that you can't use fabricate to make a sword out of iron ingots, you'd have to use iron ore? \$\endgroup\$ Nov 17 at 22:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ThomasMarkov I agree with Allan on this, personally. The "raw material" clause simply means you can't fabricate things out of nothing -- "I fabricate a pile of gold" without gold is game breaking; making books from books is not game breaking. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 17 at 22:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ThomasMarkov That's a pretty deep rabbit hole to go down. One of the example is making a bridge out of tree. But if I chop a branch off of a tree with an axe, doesn't that make that branch processed and thus unable to be used with the fabricate spell? I'll adjust my answer anyway. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 17 at 22:51
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Mending

You already stated that Mending can't affix an arbitrary surface to another. However in this case that's not what you need to do.

You have a book which you have torn a page out of. You have a new page. Mending "repairs a single break or tear in an object you touch" and that's exactly what you need to do, repair a single tear in a book.

Some may argue that you have to have the original parts, but that isn't strictly the case. If you call a plumber to repair your toilet, an electrician to repair a blown bulb, a mechanic to repair your blown head gasket, or a plasterer to repair a chipped wall, all of these people are going to use new material which was not present in the original in their repairs.

It's completely reasonable for a book with a page torn out to be repaired using a new page.

For those wondering if an object repaired with material that was not present in the original, I recommend you check out the wiki article on the Ship of Theseus. In everyday language I think this is a solved problem; if someone tells you their car had a flat and they had to get a new tire, you wouldn't say they got a new car!

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Destroy the book

A bit of a frame challenge here, but don't rebind or fix the book. Just destroy it.

Cut out all the pages, take the ones you want to conceal. And the cover/spine. Replace the pages (making sure to rough up the edges). Maybe add some additional artful distressing to both the real and fakes pages, to make the replacement harder to spot. Or even replace smore of the original pages (the ones you intended to leave) with exact duplicates, to help the fakes fit.

You could also take some of the unimportant maps, to make it look like that is why the book was damaged.

Then stuff them in a folder, or tie them up with twine. Or slip them all back into cover, if you don't want to take it, or the cover is important (and then you could still tie it with twine).

The real key here is making sure the PCs don't have any magic that can detect the forgery or reason for the damage (i.e. psychometry). Fortunately, those are fewer and far between in 5E.

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Bleach

Rather than removing and replacing the maps in the original book, he could bleach the pages to remove all the ink, and then draw new maps on the now-blank pages. This would of course require the nefarious NPC to have access to the book for long enough for the bleach to do its work, and then for it to evaporate and for the new ink to dry (otherwise, a keen observer might detect the smell of bleach and/or fresh ink). Alternatively, if the replacement maps are close enough to the originals, with just some key details altered for the purposes of the deception, he could simply bleach out small parts of the page and redraw only those with his changes.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Bleach wouldn't work unless you could cover it very well indeed. I've actually tried it with modern ink and while I got some fading the colour was still there and the black untouched. But of course you wouldn't be using modern ink. Iron gall ink (black) would be a good model in this setting. That is attacked by bleach but doesn't fade completely - rather it rusts. Then you'd need to wash before re-inking \$\endgroup\$
    – Chris H
    Nov 19 at 16:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ However if the pages were parchment it might be possible to scrape the surface away \$\endgroup\$
    – Chris H
    Nov 19 at 16:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ChrisH Bleach actually is used with modern ink - they have to do that when recycling paper. It's probably a higher strength bleach than your average Clorox bottle, and they have more time to do it, and it also degrades the paper a bit - recycled paper is never quite as good as the original paper it was recycled from. But yes, parchment would make this more plausible, as would papyrus or vellum, all of which would be the preferred book materials of the time period, depending on climate. Point remains that there are ways to erase or alter the images without tearing out pages. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 19 at 17:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ For story reason, the pages must be replaced and can not be redrawn. But I like your idea and will keep it for future adventures. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 20 at 1:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Darrel they do indeed bleach paper in recycling, but it's not just a stronger solution, it's a different compound \$\endgroup\$
    – Chris H
    Nov 20 at 20:45

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